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City budget includes longevity pay for officers

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque will provide longevity pay to police officers, but only if the city meets its quarterly revenue projections, the City Council decided Monday.

Much of the councilors’ discussion about the $531.4 million budget hinged on the proposal to pay $4 million “longevity stipends” to police officers and how to finance them.

Councilors voted 8-1 to approve the budget Monday, with Councilor Dan Lewis casting the lone opposing vote. The operating budget for fiscal year 2018 takes effect July 1.

Councilors voted 5-4 to approve an amendment sponsored by Councilor Pat Davis that sets aside $1 million each quarter for longevity pay, “contingent upon the general fund meeting its recurring revenue projections,” the amendment said.

“We’re all here to give raises to APD, but we want to do it in a responsible way,” said Councilor Diane Gibson, who voted for the amendment. The contingency “is much better than giving someone a 5 percent raise, and six months down the road, not being able to honor that,” Gibson said.

Promising the raises today could mean that the city would have to impose furloughs or layoffs if it doesn’t make revenue projections, Gibson said.

With state lawmakers considering changes in the gross receipts tax, the city’s tax collections are uncertain and could be reduced, Davis said.

Gov. Susana Martinez has called a budget-balancing special session for May 24 that could result in changes in city tax revenues.

Longevity pay is intended to encourage more APD officers to stay in the department. The stipend would begin when an officer has served for eight years and increases with length of service.

Councilors who opposed Davis’ amendment said the city needs to prioritize raises for police to retain officers and improve public safety.

“I think the problem here is a priority problem,” said Councilor Lewis, who opposed the amendment. “Do we really want to fund public safety? If you want to put a contingency on anything, put it on any other line item in this budget.”

The council debate Monday continued a conflict that arose last week when four councilors proposed the $531.4 million budget and included $6.6 million in employee pay raises, including $4 million for the longevity pay program for APD officers.

The largest stipends would be paid to officers with 18 or more years of seniority.

The councilors’ budget also includes $960,000 to pay for a 3 percent pay raise for firefighters and $1.6 million to provide a 1 percent across-the-board raise for American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees.

The council’s budget includes an additional $933,000 in funding for cultural, senior affairs and parks programs, an extra $202,000 for economic development programs and $158,000 more for social service and community programs.

The budget is coupled with a four-month city hiring freeze and a $3.3 million cut to the city’s risk-management fund, which pays for judgments against the city.

The budget was proposed Thursday by Councilors Don Harris, Brad Winter, Ken Sanchez, and Klarissa Peña.

Mayor Richard Berry in March proposed a $529.6 million budget that had included about $2.4 million in longevity stipends for police officers with eight or more years of service.

Berry’s budget provided no pay raise for other city employees, other than a 1 percent pay bump for employees making less than $30,000 a year.

Berry responded to the councilors’ proposal by sending a letter to them on Friday that added $3.5 million “to reflect the priorities of the council’s” budget proposal.

Berry took issue with the council’s proposal to trim $3.3 million from the city’s risk management fund, saying the moves put the city’s bond rating at risk.

State Auditor Tim Keller wrote to city officials in February warning that the risk management fund had a $40 million shortfall and required an additional $6.3 million a year to remain sound.

The shortfall was the result of an estimated $63.3 million that Albuquerque has paid in legal settlements in law enforcement civil rights cases from 2010 to 2016, Keller wrote.

In other action, the council voted 9-0 to rename a community center for Albuquerque boxing legend Johnny Tapia, a five-time world champion boxer who died in 2012.

The action renames the Wells Park Community Center at 500 Mountain Road NW to The Johnny Tapia Community Center at Wells Park. It also directs the city to place a sculpture of Tapia at the center called “Boxing Victory Celebration.”

About 30 members of the public spoke in support of the measure.